The Next Villain? Dan Gilbert
Now that the NFL Draft is over, there's practically no sports (unless you count Taiwanese Baseball or UFC) on ESPN to telecast. Luckily for the cable network, they had a Documentary in the can called "The Last Dance."
The Last Dance is the story of, specifically, Micheal Jordan's sixth NBA title run. It is an intriguing narrative of Jordan's focus and his greatness. If I don't have ESPN, how did I watch it? I didn't. I lived it and have now read, about, 50 articles on the shocking revelations within.
What I didn't expect from the nearly universally praise heaped upon the documentary series was criticism from seemingly nowhere in the form of Ken Burns' critique of how the opus was made. Apparently, it's a big no-no in documentary culture for the subject to come from his or her own production company. In the Last Dance, the villain was clearly Jerry Krause. But for 20 years, it was an unguarded secret that the villain in real life was....Jerry Krause.
Jerry Krause has been the villain since he rolled out of bed in 1997 and dropped this quote on the world, "players and coaches don't win championships. Organizations do." After severe blowback from coaches and players, Krause tried to walk it back, 'I didn't say that,' or 'I was misquoted.' What he really said was "players and coaches ALONE, don't win championships. Organizations do."
And he didn't understand that the second quote wasn't any better.....
Which got me to thinking, you know who else has a production company? Mr. LeBron James. Once Space Jam 2 comes out, what do you think the big picture guys at SpringHill Entertainment will be talking about? I betchya they're spitballing the LeBron James documentary for after he retires.
Who will be the villain in the LeBron James documentary produced by LeBron James?
Gilbert Arenas? No, Arenas wasn't a villain, he was more of an annoying insect.
Tim Duncan? No, on the court Duncan was a respected rival who was beloved off the court.
Micheal Jordan? No, Jordan was a Wizard and a shadow of his former self.
At every turn, in every chapter, the villain was an owner. In almost every case, that owner was Dan Gilbert. Because it's LeBron's Production Company, we'll also point out what will be left out of the documentary.
Chapter 1: They Changed the Rules Because of Me
With LeBron, everything started with...
Heck, I don't have to tell you, you can watch the LeBron movie "More Than a Game" in 2009.
While still in High School, the Cleveland Cavaliers invited LeBron to a few practices. High School phenomenon LeBron James was better than some of the professionals on the Cleveland Cavs roster at the time. The Cavs were in full tank mode to get either Carmelo Anthony, who led Syracuse to a NCAA national championship or local high school legend LeBron James, who led his Akron High School to 3 state championships in 4 years. The management may have been split, but the owners clearly wanted James, who, win or lose, was going to sell a ton of tickets. LeBron was already on the record saying that he noticed that tons of people were making money off of him, but he wasn't seeing any of it. The Cavs were eventually fined for tampering for allowing James in the facility before being drafted. The NBA was forced to change workout rules because of Jon Lucas' 'pragmatism.' Behind the scenes, the owners of the Cavs, the Gund Brothers, were looking for the face of the franchise....so they could sell the team for more money.
Villain: "The Man."
Omission: How did LeBron's single Mom, who barely had custody of him in middle school and 'disappeared at one point,' afford to buy a $100,000 Hummer when he wasn't getting any money from agents or from his high school?
Chapter 2: I'm Not From Cleveland
LeBron was a student of basketball, his heroes were the game's greats like Micheal Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird. Not just basketball though, James was a great receiver and could have gone to Ohio State and would have nearly been a shoe-in as a NFL-er. His favorite NFL team was the Dallas Cowboys, but all of his favorite sports teams had one thing in common, they were all winners. There could be a montage of a thousand sound bites of LeBron saying he's "from Akron" or he's an "Akron Kid." Sometimes he'd hedge and say Northeast Ohio.
Dan Gilbert came from Detroit and bought the Cavs and fired nearly everyone. Instead of building around LeBron, Dan Gilbert was going to re-build the Cavs ORGANIZATION from top to bottom. Instead of building a basketball team, Dan Gilbert was going to re-build Quicken Loans in the form of a Basketball Business.
Villain: Dan Gilbert
Omission: You didn't hear LeBron speak of Cavs greats like World B. Free, Mark Price, or Brad Daugherty. LeBron wouldn't talk to the Cleveland Media, only national media. The Cleveland Indians asked LeBron to come to a home game, he showed up in a New York Yankees hat. There are no soundbites of LeBron proclaiming to be a "Proud Clevelander" because they don't exist.
Chapter 3: Garbage all Around
Instead of hiring an all-time great player to put in the front office, like the Indiana Pacers did when they brought in Larry Bird, the Cavs brought in average (at best) player Danny Ferry. From the second LeBron James was picked in 2003, these were the Cavs' draft picks until The Decision in 2010. (Remember Ferry wasn't hired until before the draft in 2005).
2nd Round - Jason Kapono
1st Round - Luke Jackson
Draft Picks traded away.
1st Round - Shannon Brown
2nd Round - Daniel Gibson
2nd Round - Ejike Ugoaja
Let's stop there for a minute. I remember that Ugoaja was such an obscure athlete, there was nearly no tape on him. Danny Ferry spoke of how the San Antonio Spurs found Manu Ginobili late in the second round and that Ugoaja could have a similar ceiling. Ugoaja never played one second in the NBA. Younger than LeBron, Ugoaja bounced around the EuroCup before landing at the Kano Pillars of the Nigerian Premier League in 2016. It could be argued that Ugoaja was one of the worst second round draft picks in the NBA since the year 2000.
Draft Pick traded away.
1st Round - J.J. Hickson
1st Round - Christian Eyenga
Eyenga just turned 30 and he's playing in the lower levels of professional basketball today....
In Spain. It could be argued that Eyenga was one of the worst lower-first round draft picks in the NBA since the year 2000.
2nd Round - Danny Green
Danny Green has actually had a nice career. Guess where he's playing now? With LeBron on the L.A. Lakers. From 2005 to 2009, the Cavs won almost exclusively because of one player named Lebron James. Who hired Danny Ferry to oversee the drafts? Dan Gilbert. Haven't even mentioned Ferry's free agent deals.
Villain (s): Dan Gilbert & Danny Ferry
Omission: Local Sports Talker Mike Trivisonno used to take calls on the radio where local waiters and waitresses would complain that LeBron wouldn't tip. Trivisonno used to call LeBron a "punk." The reason he didn't tip? His presence was like a free advertisement for the restaurants in question. Other stations wouldn't take negative phone calls, I recall a rival radio station saying "LeBron manages his image very carefully. If the local media upsets him too much, he simply cuts off access, and, in the big picture, he could leave."
Chapter 4: The Spurs
In 2007, LeBron James led a scrappy bunch of underdogs and foreign nationals to the NBA Championship only to get buzzsawed by 4 future hall-of-famers (Duncan, Ginobili, Parker, & Popovich.) LeBron had arrived on the national stage and didn't hate the Spurs, he envied the Spurs. LeBron knew in his heart that the Cavs weren't ready yet as they were swept 4-0. But the LeBron Basketball Brand was just getting starting. The Spurs were a model franchise, the Cavs were not.
In 2005, not only did Dan Gilbert purchase the Cleveland Cavaliers, but he purchased the the Gund Arena. Locals said that the Gund Arena sounded like a venereal disease and Gilbert quickly re-branded the arena Quicken Loans Arena. Within a year of the Cavs going to the NBA Finals, Gilbert added the AHL's Lake Erie Monsters and the Arena League's Cleveland Gladiators as tenants. Gilbert was busy branding his sports business interests.
Villain: Dan Gilbert
Omission: LeBron signed an extension in Cleveland, but instead of signing a long-term contract, he made a short term commitment. Local radio stations went bezerk with rumors that LeBron was eyeing an exit from Cleveland and would test free agency at 25. LeBron's production company will say that LeBron signed that second contract without mentioning its length or ramifications.
Chapter 5: Homeless Nutjobs & Assorted Garbage
Above is the top half of the roster of the 2009-2010 Cleveland Cavaliers. How many Hall of Famers do you see? Two. Lebron James and Shaquille O'Neal. Not Showtime Shaq, 37 year old Shaq, who lumbered down the court like it was made of mud instead wood.
Every year, when the Cavs won, it was because of LeBron.
Every year, when the Cavs lost, it was because of the Supporting Cast.
To the press, LeBron praised his teammates at every turn.
The 61-21 Cavs had some nice pieces, Zydrunas and Anderson were excellent role players, but the playoffs were a different story. It seemed like the Washington Wizards were annoying during LeBron's first stint with the Cavs, but there weren't real, perennial rivals on the court. LeBron seemingly met every challenge that the Eastern Conference threw at him.
Villain: Dan Gilbert
Omission: To management, LeBron lamented the lack of a Pippen, Rodman, or even a Horace Grant. If you go to the Advanced Analytics at Basketball-Reference.com, you'll see that only LeBron James & Mo Williams had a +/- ratio better than the average NBA player in 2009.
Chapter 6: The Letter
Local talk show host Tony Rizzo came out a day or two before The Decision and said, and I'm paraphrasing here, 'there's no way a local kid is going to go on national TV and embarass Cleveland like this and leave. My sources tell me LeBron is staying and he's using the Decision to raise money for local charities.'
When LeBron left Cleveland, he thought that ESPN and the Cleveland Media unfairly painted him as NBA's villain. That wasn't part of his brand. LeBron's Production company will spin it that LeBron had the right to test the free agent waters and will show highlight after highlight of LeBron in a Cavs uniform.
Then to show that LeBron and his management team made the right decision, the production company will unveil the real villain, they will show every word of Dan Gilbert's Letter on the screen and will argue that it would have been untenable for him to stay in Cleveland because the Letter showed Dan Gilbert's True Colors.
Villain: Dan Gilbert
Omission: There were whispers that LeBron wanted to leave for years. He didn't want to be compared to Kevin Garnett wasting his prime with the Minnesota Timberwolves. And then don't forget the accusations that LeBron quit during the playoffs ON THE COURT. Who made those accusations? Dan Gilbert. LeBron's production company will NOT want to revisit any accusations of LeBron quitting while playing basketball. Ever.
Chapter 7: THE MIAMI HEAT
The makers of the LeBron Documentary will try to re-position the 2010-2014 Miami Heat as the greatest basketball team of all time. 2 championships and 4 straight Finals appearances. How can you call them the greatest for that? Because once LeBron retires, it will be revealed that the PLAYERS built that team and had hatched the plan years before. The Heat Championship will be re-framed as the first true players' championship. It was brave for LeBron to leave Cleveland and create a new template for the NBA. Chapter 7 will be a human highlight reel of James, Wade, and
The Miami Heat could have stayed together longer, but Mickey Arison didn't want to put the Heat into the Luxury Tax. The players didn't break that team up, but their penny-pinching owner.
Villain: Mickey Arison
Omission: ESPN's Dan LeBatard laughed when LeBron left Cleveland. "Of course he left Cleveland. It's Cleveland." When he left Miami, LeBatard was stunned and bitter.
Chapter 8: The Return
Back in 2014, while LeBron was with the Miami Heat, the Tamir Rice Case polarized America.
LeBron and his NBA counterparts banded together and wore hoodies in support of Tamir Rice and his family. Those actions thrust LeBron's Social Activism into the national spotlight. LeBron didn't want to just dribble a basketball, he wanted to be more than an athlete.
On the court, LeBron returned to Cleveland to adoring fans (except for me) and brought Cleveland its first Championship in half a century. Dan Gilbert poured money into the Cavs, spending through the luxury tax as the triple threat of LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Love will be remembered in Cleveland for centuries.
Again, LeBron never wanted to be the villain, he was only about winning. His branding made a considerable recovery.
Villain: The Media
Omission: I am jaded, I readily admit that, but there's one topic that no one covers. It is one thing to be socially conscious, it is quite another to market your social consciousness.
To prove my theory, ask LeBron what he thinks about China.
Chapter 9: The Decision Part II
Things went south remarkably quick in Cleveland. Just one year after the Cavs' first championship in the franchise's history, Kyrie Irving demanded a trade. GM Koby Altman quickly obliged, to LeBron's protests, and Altman followed Irving's trade with bad move after bad move. LeBron wasn't so furious with rookie GM Koby Altman, but with the man who hired him....
Villain: Dan Gilbert
The second time around there was no Decision II, LeBron was very professional. Clearly though, it was obvious he couldn't get out of town fast enough.
Omission: LeBron had to be pissed that Koby Altman was in charge. Hell, I agree with LeBron, I'm pissed Koby Altman was in charge. Dan Gilbert hired Altman because he was a good company man. Altman's basketball experience was as a Division III player...in Vermont. What Dan Gilbert was sick of was the drama that followed LeBron James everywhere he went. It simply wore people out. Why did Irving want out of Cleveland so bad? He didn't want to be deserted in Cleveland when LeBron left again. Kyrie was worried about HIS brand. How did Kyrie know LeBron was leaving again?
Chapter 10: Where I Belong
It will be framed that the L.A. Lakers is where LeBron was destined to land. The producers will say that all of the greats were Lakers in one era or another, then there will be another montage of Laker players from Jerry West all the way to LeBron. LeBron will focus on his happiness with his production company and how Los Angeles is the perfect fit for his many, many international marketing interests. Most importantly, though, America is his home for his social activism.
It will be hammered into the ground that not since Bill Russell has a player gone to EIGHT STRAIGHT NBA CHAMPIONSHIPS. By the time the LeBron Documentary airs in 5-8 years, LeBron might even bring a championship to Los Angeles. If that happens, look for the producers to tout how hard it is to win championships with 3 different teams.
Say LeBron takes the Lakers to the Finals this year, LeBron can also compare himself to Tim Duncan insomuch that he had sustained greatness for 15 years. Say LeBron plays another contract with yet another team. He can break Robert Parish's record of most games played in the NBA. That's another milestone that will help him argue that he was the greatest of all time.
LeBron is not chasing current players anymore, he is chasing ghosts. How can he become the greatest over the Ghost of Bill Russell, the Ghost of Kareem, or, most importantly, the Ghost of Micheal Jordan? By re-defining the parameters of greatness in the modern era.
Omission: Eight straight Championships, but 3-5 in those Finals. Don't forget the Spurs series, and, what if LeBron takes the Lakers to a Finals Appearance, but he loses? 3-7 in Finals will be very, very hard to spin away.
And I also find it hard to believe that a post-stroke Dan Gilbert will cooperate in ANY productions from LeBron James.